Bengaluru look to Kanteerava again to make history
Bengaluru FC v FC Istiklol
AFC Cup Inter-Zone final 2nd leg
Wednesday, October 18, 7 pm IST
Kanteerava Stadium, Bengaluru
Nearly a year since becoming the first Indian club to reach the AFC Cup final, Bengaluru FC have a chance to do it all over again. They need to overcome a 1-0 first-leg deficit against Tajikstan's FC Istiklol, at the same venue where they carried out a similar task against Johor Darul Ta'zim last year at this stage of the competition.
It's a much-changed BFC side from one that created history last year, and the pressure is probably more this time around without an away goal going into the second leg at the Kanteerava. If they pull this off, what awaits them is a rematch against Iraq's Air Force club -- the team they lost to last year - but more importantly it will be at Bengaluru's home ground.
BFC go into the game with no suspensions, a full-strength team and a mean record at home this AFC Cup: unbeaten, four successive wins, 12 goals scored and only one conceded. "Our supporters could make the difference," Albert Roca and his team have been echoing ever since their first-leg loss.
BFC's defence restricted Istiklol to only two shots from inside the box from a total of 21 in the first leg, forcing the Tajik side to shoot from distance. With the curse of the away goal looming, they need to put in a similar shift.
Istiklol, runners-up in 2015, are unbeaten in this AFC Cup campaign and come into this game with four clean sheets and 21 goals - the tournament's best -- to their name so far. They welcome back Tajik midfielder Juraboev Amirbek -- a first team starter -- and Ghanaian midfielder David Mawutor, while Ukraine defender Artem Baranavskyi continues to serve a suspension. Against a resilient BFC defence, they will rely on Fathollo Fathuloev's set-piece abilities to reach their second final in three years.
Should the game finish 1-0 to BFC at the end of regulation time, extra-time will be played followed by penalty kicks.
Form guide (last five matches, most recent first)
Bengaluru FC: LDWLL
FC Istiklol: WWDWW
In the spotlight
While BFC will once again look to Sunil Chhetri to score the crucial goals, his support cast in midfield might need to step-up. Lenny Rodrigues, who has been effective if not influential, will need to get his scoring boots on. BFC made 520 passes, nearly double to Istiklol's 289 in the first leg, but failed to provide any value in the attacking third. Lenny could be BFC's best hope of a goal from midfield.
Romish Dzalilov's tackling ability will be crucial in winning midfield battles for Istiklol. The 21-year-old Tajik International holds his ground defensively, but is also a key man during counterattacks. His long balls can provide the width that can stretch this BFC side.
"We all know the permutations and combinations now and it's simple for us. We need to win by two goals, and so we need to get off to a good start. It won't be easy against Istiklol who will be hard to break down, but there's no turning back and we will go all out to get the result." - Albert Roca